CATACOMB OF TERROR
 

POLTERGEIST

1982. Directed by Tobe Hooper

A supernatural film that gets some good reviews and one that spawned several follow-on movies, all less successful than this well received classic. A point should be made that the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 20th scariest film ever made - mmm - what on earth were they thinking of?

Set in a Californian suburb we join up with the Freeling family where mum (JoBeth Williams) and dad (Craig T. Nelson) and kids Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins) and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) live quietly and move along in the everyday scheme of life. One night, the youngest daughter, Carol Anne awakes and is found to be conversing with the families’ television set that is on the static snow mode following a sign off. The next night she does the same and an apparition erupts from the screen and duly disappears. A violent tremor shakes the house, subsides and the classic line is uttered from the child’s lips 'They're here' - now the hauntings can begin. Numerous paranormal occurrences follow with the local tree turning into a monster, the furniture moving about of its own accord and an all-consuming portal appearing in a closet - all strange enough. Of course a group of parapsychologists are called in and a totally disturbing medium known as Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) struts her stuff. The usual exorcising insanity ensues, several on the edge moments add to the thrill factor and the ending comes and leaves us...well, in my personal case, disappointed.

The film comes with big propaganda, having watched it back when it was released I expected much from a long overdue catch up - what a fool I was! I was. The problem with this film is that perhaps I expected too much and I find the acting throughout slightly dry and without much life and the story too dragging and too predictable. Maybe it is just me but something is slightly tame about the whole affair and this is one I certainly won't be playing over and over - a real let down if the truth be known.
   

THE QUIET ONES

2014. Directed by John Pogue

Another new Hammer release and one that strictly relies on psychological molestation and underhand dabblings that concern a young woman and an obsessive and quite disturbing University Professor. It has its moments indeed and the aftertaste it leaves is...well read on and find out if you don't mind.

Professor Coupland (Jared Harris) has an obsessive desire to prove that the supernatural does not exist and is determined to prove that a cure can be found for those who appear to be possessed. After attending one of Coupland's classes, student Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin) is invited to film a series of experiments at a tucked away location with the Prof’s two assistants Krissi (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), and their subject Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke). Jane is a delicate girl capable of emitting strange phenomena and unsettling occurrences. To increase the chances of witnessing such events the unhinged Professor creates an agitating situation that deprives his subject of sleep and any real privacy. This pressure and mental cruelty brings about unexpected results and eventually a supernatural force comes to the fore, a force not to be trifled with or merely cast off as a disease of the mind. Tension and atmosphere rise, the true identity of all characters is revealed and a curse is borne.

The ingredients of the film and the angles of the main shooting are very rewarding and the gradual exposure of the main storyline is neatly done with one or two performances surpassing expectation. The only flaws are the somewhat sedated pace, the slight ambiguity to the overall proceedings and the lack of genuine scare scenes. Far from a classic and one that just needed the edge a little more sharpened.
   

FRIDAY THE 13TH

1980. Directed by Sean S. Cunningham

At the time of writing, this movie is the opener in what is a 12-part American horror franchise that follows the story of one, Jason Voorhees. It is part of the slash and stalk genre, was a frontrunner of its time and, if I am honest, it still doe the business all these years on.

It is 1958 at Camp Crystal Lake, a couple sneak away from a sing-a-long party to have a bit of intimacy, which is unfortunately cut short by the intrusion of a crazed assailant, both, are murdered. We move along 20 years, the camp is due to re-open and, hitchhiker/counsellor, Annie (Robbi Morgan), gets a lift to the camp after asking directions at a local diner. Prior to the lift an old man warns our hitchhiker of a 'death curse' upon the camp and along the way she hears tales of a young boy who drowned there 2 years before the couple were murdered. Annie is dropped off on a lonely road, hitchhikes another lift and is dutifully killed by the driver whose face is never seen.

At the camp, the other counsellors, Ned (Mark Nelson), Jack (Kevin Bacon), Bill (Harry Crosby), Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), Brenda (Laurie Bartram), Alice (Adrienne King) and the camp's owner, Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), are refurbishing the cabins and facilities just in time for the killer to turn up and set about some gruesome business. One by one the young group are picked off, but who is the killer and why are they doing what they do?

The structure of the film has been whipped to death over the years and replicated many times over but, this original effort still holds up and has some real nasty scenes to cringe and cower from. The twist at the end works and one or two scary scenes never fail to make one jump. The musical score is blatantly Psycho-esque, the acting sometimes a trifle shady and the plot mostly predictable and yet this one is something of a must watch and is easily enjoyed over and over again.  Maybe its just me but this one does seem to meet the criteria of a good throwaway horror flick and sometimes that is all we should ask for.
   

DEMONS OF THE MIND

1972. Directed by Peter Sykes

A very disturbing and quite angular spillage from the vaults of the Hammer studio and one, after an initial viewing, that doesn't sit very well in the connoisseurs lap if the truth must be told. Watch again and then things become a little more lucid and digestible but it is still very much hard work.

Baron Zorn (Robert Hardy) is a widower who keeps his two children, Emil (Shane Bryant) and Elizabeth (Gillian Hills) locked up, afraid that they will suffer from the same madness that killed his wife. The children are kept apart due to a disturbing incestuous attraction they have to one another and despite several attempts to escape, Aunt Hilda (Yvonne Mitchell) is always on hand to stop them. However Elizabeth does manage one brief sojourn whereupon she has a tryst with a local, is recaptured and forced to undergo a bleeding process that will draw out the bad blood. As we fall deeper into the plot we see several external parties become involved one of which is a priest who plans to extricate any evil and put all back on an even, Godly, keel. Murders begin to mount, insanity is exposed and this odd film builds to its fractured finale.

In parts this one has much to recommend it, in others it falls completely flat on its face and so overall is a disjointed movie that drags on for a little too long. It is an adventurous attempt and given a complete make-over the story could be a good one but as it is, things are too contrasting, ill-fitting and wayward to give one much pleasure.
   

KISS OF THE VAMPIRE

1963. Directed by Don Sharp

Hammer-time again folks and once more we get treated to the lush vibrant colours and familiar studio ambience. This film was set to be the third release in the Dracula series, without actually using Christopher Lee - an almost blasphemous act and maybe, due to a trifle of indecision, the film suffers as a consequence.

A honeymooning couple Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne Harcourt (Jennifer Daniel) are enjoying the beauty of 20th century Bavaria whereupon, by sincere misfortune, they end up becoming involved in a strange vampire cult that is led by the cracked Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman) and his two children Carl (Barry Warren) and Sabena (Jacquie Wallis). Marriane is eventually abducted, the cult conspire to make out that Harcourt was travelling alone and that his wife never existed which appears to be an impossible situation to get out of. Harcourt turns to hard boozing Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans), who lost his daughter to the cult and is only to happy to try and get revenge. Can the yarn weave a decent thread on which we can cling or will the film become a flimsy, insecure offering that falls short of such lofy expectations we have to right to have?

Despite this being a release from the famed studios and being in a period when they were on the crest of a wave I find myself slightly unconvinced. There is something slightly out of kilter throughout and the plot lacks any definite firmness to hold true attention. As a passing curio it is just fine but when compared to other similar flicks it fails to hold its own.
   

CATACOMBS

1964. Directed by Gordon Hessler

Not a full on horror film by any means but one that has enough suspense, terror and sinister underscores to deserve a place in this ever-growing list.

Mrs Garth (Georgina Cookson) is seemingly happily married to her husband Richard (Gary Merrill) but it is only the money and the power that keeps him so close as he certainly has an eye on his wife's tempting young niece, Alice Taylor (Jane Merrow). Mrs Garth is a strong, overpowering woman and this has not only alienated her husband but her secretary too, one Richard 'Dicky' Corbett (Neil McCallum). Unfortunately Mr Corbett has to stay within Mrs Garth’s services due to the fact that she owns some forged cheques written by him that create an ever-present blackmail situation. The husband and the secretary get together to plot Mrs Garths death and during one weekend their plans become reality with quite alarming consequences had. The film was alternately titled 'The Woman Who Would Not Die' - the finale of this slick production explains why.

I like this film, it has a fluidity and a sub-Edgar Wallace feel to it and the execution is nicely played out with a strong lead woman at the fore who really does convince. The odd chilling moment adds to the fascination and this is one to keep coming back to. It is one of those to tuck up with on a cold, wintry afternoon and get dragged along by into a convoluted web of underhand shenanigans.
   

THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU

1977. Directed by Don Taylor

Based on H. G. Wells' classic yarn from 1896 that the author described as 'an exercise in youthful blasphemy'. Here we see a second making of the film (the first being The Island Of Lost Souls with Charles Laughton) with a duo of famed names up front to add stock value.

We begin with two shipwrecked men washing up on a strange remote island where only one survives, namely Andrew Braddock (Michael York). Braddock soon learns that the island is governed by a Dr Moreau (Burt Lancaster) whom is joined by Dr Davenport (Nigel Davenport) and a young women known as Maria (Barbara Carrera). He is also joined by the strange servant known as 'M Ling who sets off a trail of suspicion as to all not being well on this seeming Island of Paradise. The welcome Braddock receives is warm and friendly but after he makes contact with some of the islands inhabitants he starts asking questions and things become a little tense. What he uncovers is the work of a madman and a quest to dabble with life without thought of consequence. Of course love interest arises between Braddock and Maria and the crazed scientist gets the backlash from all that he has created and the finale is what you would expect. Overall though it is the undercurrent of obsession and insanity that holds things together and Lancaster’s fine and unsettling performance is a treat.

This flick of fear is a tame affair I feel and lacks a tension and atmosphere it was ideally made for. The players do well, they hold their own and help lift the film from the utter turkey-fied doldrums it could well have found itself residing in but in final judgement I would give it a very uninspiring verdict of average. The thinking behind the tale however gets one intrigued so all is definitely not lost.
   

FRIDAY THE 13TH - PART II

1981. Directed by Steve Miner

After the success of the first flick it was inevitable that a follow-on would come but the question is always the same when a sequel is made - will the movie have its own character or will it rely on the same old formula and fall into the shadow of its predecessor? Prior to the main event we find ourselves 2 months after the events of the first film, where Alice Hardy (Adrienne King), the sole survivor is recovering from her trauma. In her apartment, she finds the head of Pamela Voorhees in her refrigerator and is brutally murdered by Jason Voorhees (Pamela's son) with an ice pick.

5 years on and we are back at Camp Crystal Lake where another naive bunch of wide-eyed, lustful counsellors are in residence and take no heed of the local rumours. Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) from the first movie turns up to warn the kids but is garrotted before he can spread his doom-laden ramblings. Before we know it we are back in a typical routine with various types of murder being committed by the faceless Jason. The plot follows the original and is lacking in any originality and despite one or two decent death scenes this effort just seems a quick cash in production and is a very average indeed.

We could have had so much more here, an advancement on the foundations set and a more in-depth angle to play on but what we get is a directorial doppelganger that really misses out. The only salvation is that we get a brief glimpse of Jason for the first time during a fine closing scare but beyond that, there ain't much to write home about folks.
   

FRIDAY THE 13th - PART III

1982. Directed by Steve Miner

The third in the slasher horror series and one without any originality, depth or real scary moments.  What it does have is an overdose of 3D trickery that is so annoyingly blatant one can't help but view it as another nail in a victim’s coffin.

After catching up with the tail end of the last movie Jason (our villain and killer of all annoying sexed up teens) goes to a lakefront store to find clothes and a new mask. Those in residence are duly killed before he moves on to Higgins Haven. While there he kills owners Harold (meat cleaver in the chest) and Edna (stabbed in the back of the head with a knitting needle) before moving on to the aforementioned destination.  This is a local farmhouse where, surprise, surprise, Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmell) and her friends are going to spend the weekend. The group is made up of pregnant Debbie (Tracie Savage), her boyfriend Andy (Jeffrey Rogers), prize prune and prankster Shelley (Larry Zerner), Vera(Catherine Parks) (whom he is supposed to be getting hooked up with), hash heads Chuck (David Katims) and Chili (Rachel Howard), and Chris's boyfriend Rick (Paul Kratka).  After Vera and Shelley have a run in with some local rebels they are followed to Higgin's Haven where the trio of tearaways plot to get revenge.  Jason has ideas all of his own and it isn’t long before all and sundry start to become a cropper (in some instances) with the chopper.

Surely this is irrefutable garbage that rapes the 2 previous films, swallows them both, pukes them back up in a lesser format and adds some real lame-assed acting as a sure-fire downer.  Yeah, poor effects, poor performances, poor script and as a result a darn poor film – I cannot be bothered to add any more.

 

THE MONSTER MAKER

1944. Directed by Sam Newfield

The impression this wee film made on me was so impressive that two weeks later I dug it out of my collection and couldn't recall even seeing it.  It was replayed, lapped up and, although lacking originality was duly enjoyed.  Sometimes it is the frame of mind that matters.

We begin at the theatre were Patricia (Wanda McKay) and escort watch her father Anthony Lawrence (Ralph Morgan) play the piano.  She is soon being eyed up by Dr. Markoff (J. Carrol Naish) and his assistant Maxine (Tala Birtell) after they are reminded of the Dr's long dead wife.  After the show an apology comes from the Dr for his eye-balling vulgarity but he is a love stricken madman and has plans in his mind to possess our beautiful lead lady, no matter what.  After constantly harassing the object of his desire resistance comes to Markoff's door in the form of Patricia's father whom tells the crazed Doctor, in no uncertain terms, to leave his offspring alone.  Markoff knocks out Mr Lawrence, injects him with the fatal disease known as acromegaly and begins a dastardly plan.  As Lawrence slowly falls foul to the disease his daughter has no choice but to see Markoff who is the only real authority on the subject - it seems he will get his way after all.  To hinder his progress though is Maxine, a loyal and wide-eyed assistant who has finally had enough of his insidious and selfish ways.

This is a neat little flick to indulge in and is an easily followed tale that is executed well by all players.  Markoff is particularly devious and his insane focus and unerring lack of empathy towards others is in tradition with the mad scientist role.  No gripes really, it is a budget film and does a good job to keep one entertained.

   

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